Dealing with Difficult People - Part 1

Chances are there is someone in your life that you consider to be "difficult" or hard to get along with. While there are people who take pleasure in being contrary, most of the difficulty stems from differences in thinking. You think differently than they do. In this series of articles I'm going to explore each of the ways that people get into conflicts just by their thinking alone.

Conflicting Values

Republicans fight Democrats. Greenpeace fights big business. You probably wrestle with a boss, spouse, coworkers, employees, parents or children. At some level, they are being difficult because they don't have the same values as you do. What are the core values that most people hold?

  • People and relationships
  • Places - where you live, work, travel, etc.
  • Activities - sports, exercise, getting things done.
  • Knowledge - learning
  • Things - houses, cars, boats, planes, furniture, etc. Lifestyle.

If you go on vacation and your spouse wants to read a book, but you want to skydive or parasail or scuba dive, each of you will view the other person as "difficult." If your coworker is only working to buy the house or car of their dreams and you value relationships at work, there's going to be conflict. How do you overcome these differences in values? Simple.

Seek First To Understand

As Stephen Covey said in the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, one of you has to take the time to understand the other's values. Once you understand what the other person values, then you can frame any communication so that it matches their needs, not yours. 

How do you find out what a person values? It simple. Ask them this question: What's important to you about (work, vacation, a house, a home, a marriage)? The context (i.e., the where and when) will allow the other person to focus their answer on what they value in that area of their life. 

Ask anyone this question about work, and you'll get a variety of answers (each one representing one or two core values):

  • I like the people I work with. I get to meet new people.
  • I like working downtown, out of doors, etc.
  • I'm always in motion. I'm never trapped in a cubicle.
  • I learn something new every day.
  • I get to have the lifestyle I want.

Then you can adjust your discussion to include your values, but tailor them to lead with their values as well:

  • You might consider XYZ company because you'd get to meet a lot more new people and expand your knowledge.
  • Denver might be a great place to live and work because the downtown area is booming and the chance to get out of doors to hike, camp and ski are tremendous.
  • There's lots of activities on Maui and while you're out jet skiing, I can hang out by the pool and read a novel.
  • The learning opportunities in this job are second to none, and you'll get to work with some top notch people.
  • This job will allow you to live the life you've always dreamed in a place that's great for kids.

Pacing and Leading

This method is called pacing and leading. First you pace their values by framing the conversation in their values; then you lead them to how their values will support yours. When you learn their values and use pacing and leading, you'll discover that those "difficult" people aren't quite so difficult after all. 

Rather than get upset by a so-called "difficult" person, you might consider getting curious. How can they think like that? What are they thinking? What must be important to them?

Values Archeology

As you get some practice at this, you'll start to notice that people's values stick out everywhere. People who love people like to mingle, network, entertain. People who love where they live will just relax in the presence of mountains, ocean, beach, desert or wherever they feel most comfortable. Activities people will carry a gym bag to work. Knowledge people often tote around a non-fiction book or check out the news on the internet. People who love things will dress better than most, drive a clean status car, and live in better neighborhoods. 

People are always living their values. All you have to do is notice. When you have a guess about their values, ask them about it. If it's a high value, their face will light up and they'll tell you all about it. 

Take the time to discover the values of the key people in your life. Then use pacing and leading to connect with them on a deeper level. You'll be surprised how quickly those difficult people become easier to live with. 

A word about manipulation: Many people worry that this will be manipulative. Here's my take on it. If you're doing it to further the relationship and achieve both of your outcomes, it's not manipulation; it's a caring way to live. If you're doing it just to advance your own interests, it's manipulation and the other person will see right through it and become even more difficult. It's up to you how it works. 

Next, we'll get into the various motivation styles and how they create difficult people.

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